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Average KCPE scorer shoots to aerospace fame in UK at only 28



When Gladys Chepkirui Ngetich boarded a plane on September 28 2015 to the United Kingdom, it was her second flight outside of Kenya. Her first ever flight was two years earlier when she travelled to Norway to attend the International Student Festival in Trondheim.

There is nothing special about flying but that flight acquires significance when Chepkirui’s achievements in the four years she spent in the UK are put into perspective.

Her maiden trip to the UK was to join the prestigious University of Oxford for her doctor of philosophy (PhD) studies, on a Rhodes scholarship, upon her graduation from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT).

In her class at the Juja campus, she was one of the only nine girls studying mechanical engineering. She had a bias towards thermodynamics and graduated with a first class honours degree in 2015.

“After my undergraduate studies, I wanted to do a post-graduate degree. I wanted a thermodynamics project. The project I found at Oxford (thermofluids) is under the aerospace laboratory,” she told Nation Higher Education magazine during an exclusive interview at the mechanical engineering laboratory at JKUAT during a recent visit.

James Finlay scholarship

“I studied at JKUAT under a James Finlay scholarship. They had promised me that if I do very well, they would sponsor my master’s. I was pretty much settled because I knew where I’d get my master’s funding.”

She was introduced to the Rhodes Scholarship by a classmate who was looking for scholarships but when he came across it, he felt that he could not meet its rigorous requirements.

“For Rhodes, you must have and demonstrate three things: leadership, extra-curricular and academic excellence. For the University of Oxford to take you, you must pass very well. I was hesitant at first but I applied and the rest, as they say, is history,” she said.

Chepkirui was among the five shortlisted candidates. They were taken through two stages of interview; a pre-selection dinner and a formal interview. Renowned economist, David Ndii (a former Rhodes scholar, himself) was in the panel.

Unlike in the Kenyan education system, Chepkirui did not have to go through a master’s programme.

After submitting her transcripts to her supervisor and being taken through an interview, she was enrolled straight into the PhD programme at Oriel College, the fifth oldest of the University of Oxford’s constituent colleges. It was founded in 1326. She did her research work at Oxford Thermofluids Institute, which prides itself as one of the “most sophisticated turbine and high speed flow facilities in the UK”.

Jet engine cooling researcher

Three years after enrolling as a jet engine cooling researcher, Chepkirui registered a patent for an innovation arising from her research, in collaboration with Rolls-Royce Plc, one of the top makers of jet engines in the world. It is about an alternative double-wall aerofoil fabrication technique.

However, she cannot reveal much about the nature of the innovation since the patenting process is incomplete. “It’s been filed in the UK and in the US,” she said.

Her innovation is special as it reduces the amount of air required to cool jet engines that can reach temperatures of 2,000 °C. It also reduces the carbon dioxide emissions.

Chepkirui did not start life flying high and hobnobbing with the world’s top researchers at blue-chip companies famous for their engineering transcendence. Her journey to the top has not been rose-coloured but has been marked by what many would consider modest performance.

When she scored 298 marks out of 500 in the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) in 2004, few would have expected her to go far, academically. Except her mother. That year, the top candidate nationally was from Nairobi and had 472 marks.

Chepkirui was admitted into a local secondary school but her mother knew her daughter’s potential and set about searching for a school that would offer her a more challenging environment. A number of schools rejected her before she was admitted to Mercy Girls Secondary School in Kipkelion, Kericho County.

“My performance didn’t affect me because I didn’t even know what that meant. I was just a normal child,” she says, adding that her mother would punish her for playing instead of revising for her last KCPE paper.

Worked hard

At Mercy Girls, she worked hard and when she sat her KCSE, she emerged the top candidate in Kipkelion Constituency, having scored an A- that earned her the James Finlay scholarship. And that marked the beginning of her success.

Last year, she won one of the most coveted fellowships in the world; the Schmidt Science Fellows. Of the 20 students selected from globally acclaimed universities this year, only two are from Africa.

Indeed, her teachers at Lelaibei Primary School in the Mau area of Nakuru County must now be pleasantly surprised to learn that Chepkirui, who obtained modest marks in KCPE, has scaled academic heights.

Chepkirui earned her PhD last year at only 28 years! Schmidt Science Fellows “look for the brightest minds in the natural sciences, mathematics, engineering, and computing who are interested in broadening their horizons.”

According to their website: “Schmidt Science Fellows, in partnership with the Rhodes Trust, aims to develop the next generation of science leaders to transcend disciplines, advance discovery, and solve the world’s most pressing problems.”

As a Fellow, Chepkirui is undertaking a year-long postdoctoral placement at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA.

“They encourage PhD students to move out of their comfort zones and try something different from what they’re used to. I’ve had to step aside (from heat transfer and cooling for jet engines) and try something different,” she explained.

If the fellows like their new area of study, they can stay on and receive full funding to advance their research. However, if it does not fascinate them, they can go back to their earlier research interests. Chepkirui’s new area of study space technologies to support Sustainable Development Goals.

Space designs

Her research group is working on how to use space designs and space science to either directly address or monitor the progress of SDGs, for example, satellites in space to connect rural schools to the Internet. She intends to, specifically, research on rocket fuel that is used to propel satellites into space and keep them there.

She acknowledges that studying in the UK opened up her worldview. One thing that stands out for her is the collaboration between the universities and industry, something rare in Kenya.

“My research work with Rolls-Royce was on a live project, not abstract stuff. I wasn’t just doing it to score an A or for my thesis but to improve the next jet engine. I designed something and then I was talking to my professor and he just said, ‘Wow! Gladys, no one has thought about this before’,” she said, explaining how her innovation came about.

In 2018, Chepkirui was named as one of the ‘UK Top 10 Rare Rising Stars’ of 2018, an award that celebrates the academic achievements of the UK’s 10 best African and Caribbean students. The award is sponsored by Latham & Watkins (a top American law firm), the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford.

For both Schmidt and the Rare Rising Star awards, Chepkirui attributes her selection to her excellence in academics as an aerospace engineer as well as her exploits on the athletics track and leadership record.

While at JKUAT, her favourite races were the 5,000 and 10,000 metres in which she competed at the East African universities games and won 3 gold, 2 silver and 2 bronze medals. She also made it to the Team Kenya national trials in 2013 but did not make the cut against Kenya’s famed elite athletes. At Oxford, she switched to the faster 400 metres hurdles race.

“My proudest moment was when I ran 64:67 to get the Blues record (an honour given to any athlete who dips below 65 seconds in the event at the university),” she said.

Leadership skills

Chepkirui honed her leadership skills early as a class monitor in primary school before being appointed sports captain in secondary school. At JKUAT, she was a class representative for five years. She also served as student technical team liaison at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers conference for one year.

“I like organising people, putting things in order and taking charge,” Chepkirui said.

Though unsure of what the future holds for her, Chepkirui foresees a role in leadership in science either in academia or in the industry.

“Now that I’m a Schmidt Fellow, they are intentionally brushing us to be fine science leaders. I can see myself leading engineering or science innovations somewhere,” she says.

Chepkirui’s wish is for more girls and women to be granted opportunities to better their lives.

“When I look back seven or 10 years, I didn’t know I’d join JKUAT. Rhodes wasn’t in the books and Oxford would only have been a dream. I know there are many women and girls in the villages crying for a fraction of what I have. That humbles me,” her tone changes as she says this.

According to her, many girls from her village are married off after their primary or secondary school education, sometimes against their will.

“Thinking about that makes me want to utilise the opportunities that come my way.”

To contribute improving the lives of girls, she co-founded a non-governmental organisation called Iluu that is based in Nairobi. The organisation focuses on promoting girls’ education, sexual and reproductive health awareness and mentorship.


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‘Tomorrow is not guaranteed’ DJ Soxxy’s wife pens after losing her mum



Ciiku Wa Soxxy, wife to Kenyan gospel spin master DJ Soxxy has advised Kenyans to always appreciate their parents when there is still time.

According to Ciiku, tomorrow is not guaranteed and the best thing is to make hay while the sun shines.

Giving an example of herself, Ciiku shared on how she and her family had planned to take their mother for a vacation only for death to snatch her.

‘Whisked mum to Cape Town to celebrate her 67th birthday, we had a blast and just for her to see another world out there.

For her 70th we had planned to do Bangkok.. But Corona snatched that opportunity from us.

Don’t wait for tomorrow, because you don’t know if tomorrow will come.’

Ciiku wa Soxxy with her family alongside their late mum

Below are condolence messages from Ciiku’s fan to her and her family over their mum’s demise.

wambuijl: Pole sana Ciiku 💔 may God give you insurmountable strength, and peace that passes all understanding.

shiqo_wa_monica: My condolences to your family. May her soul rest in peace. It is well

saraiafrique: My deepest condolences to you and your family during this time.

ms_cherro: Poleni sana. May God be with you and your family at this time.

shonigachina: May God’s peace and comfort be with you during this trying time 💔.

xanderoyolaii: Praying for God’s comforting presence over you and your family through this 🙏🏾.

Let’s learn to love and appreciate our parents while they are still around, painful as it may be to think about they won’t be here forever.


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A couple that sinqs I I together, stays together



Music is the magic that keeps gospel artistes Joseph and Eunice Kwallah alive— whether practising at home, recording in studio or singing on stage.

The Kenyan-born couple currently based in United Kingdom [UK] has been producing songs together since last year. So far, they have recorded five songs. However, Eunice has composed many songs, which they are yet to be record.

“My wife’s passion for music can be traced back to her childhood. She always desired to be a gospel artiste,” says Joseph.

After relocating from Kenya to UK 13 years ago, Eunice thought that her dream of becoming a gospel artiste would never come true. Being in a foreign land, she didn’t know where to start. At some point, she wished to come back to Kenya, at least to record her songs. “I came to the UK on a work permit visa in 2006, working in the hotel industry. My wife and children joined me in 2007. Though she was happy being in a foreign land, she used to ask me if I knew someone who could help her produce her music there. This really challenged me,” Joseph recalls.

After talking to several Kenyans working abroad, the couple was referred to a Kenyan producer, Zangi Alex. This was the good news she had eagerly been waiting to hear for such a long time. Joseph also decided to support his wife by being a backing vocalist. “Finding a music producer and a videographer who are both Kenyans and have a good understanding of Kenyan music was the best thing that has happened to our music journey. Courtesy of them, we have managed to produce the best beats since they understand what the Kenyan music industry loves,” Joseph says.

The couple recorded their first song in August 2019. “We usually go to the studio, which is eight hours drive from where we live during school holidays, so we can also have time out together as a family. We practise at home during our off days, and at church – when the church was open,” he says. But Joseph reveals that though they are now recognised as some of the renowned Kenyan gospel artistes abroad, their

main aim is to reach, inspire and change people through music.

“Our music genre is gospel reggae. I loved reggae music when I was growing up. After I got born again, I moved on to love gospel reggae. Our inspiration comes from our daily life activities, listening to other gospel artistes and what God has done and still doing in our lives,” he adds.

Parenting in UK

There is solidity in playing music together. “You have someone who holds your back and you can rely on in music and in life. You sort of complement each other with every sound you make,” he says.

So, how have they managed to keep their music career alive despite being in a foreign country? Joseph says that having an audience in UK that loves their songs and others back here has kept them going.

“It hasn’t been easy for us because initially we used to have different work schedules. I used to work at night and during the day I would take care of our children when my wife was either at work or in school,” he reveals.

Joseph says parenting in the UK is an expensive affair. “There are no house girls unlike in Kenya. The closest to house girls in UK are child minders who are only hired to watch over the children and not to do any house chores like you would expect a house girl to do in Kenya. On the other hand, their fees are charged per hour and to say the least, it is the only desperate decision one can make,” says the father of three.

Also, children in UK cannot be left on their own unattended, until the age of 16. This is why Joseph had to make a sacrifice to work at night for him to take care of the children during the day.

Charity work

“We learned how to share responsibilities among ourselves, helping one another in house chores and other duties. Despite all this, we are still grounded on Christian ethos and that has made our life much easier. Each one of us knows their place in the family. I remain a husband and she remains a wife, but we mutually agree on issues that have to be done,” Joseph shares.

Apart from music, the couple is involved in charity work. In 2016 Joseph run 100 kilometres in UK to raise funds for Wetherby and District Food bank. He managed to rise Sh300,000 for the food bank. He has also been involved in charity work back in Kenya. Some of these charities are Tear Fund, Bible Society and Joanna Project – Leeds.

Together with family and friends, they have opened a community library in Ngong Township Primary School and they are hoping to open a second one in Nakuru county at a place called Tangi Tano. They also support some local football teams in Kenya by collecting football kits in UK and ship them over to Kenya.

“I was moved when I heard that there are people going hungry in the UK in the 21st century and because God has abundantly provided for me, I had to play my part by feeding the hungry. That is why I decided to run to raise some funds for the food bank,” he says.

By PD.coke

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Meru police accused of beating teenager to death



A family in Meru is seeking justice after their 19-year-old teenager was allegedly beaten to death by police officers.

The family said the teenager, Spencer Thuranira, was struck several times in his head by police officers in Maua town two weeks ago after a riot.

A post-mortem, conducted by Chief Government Pathologist Johansen Oduor at the Nyambene Sub-county Hospital mortuary, showed that Spencer succumbed to head injuries.

“I found severe injury to the head, which caused swelling of the brain. The cause of death is head injury due to a blunt trauma.

“I have handed the report to the police for investigations,” Dr Oduor said.

Distraught family members and friends are now calling for a thorough investigation into the matter.

The victim’s brother, Mutembei Mwithalii, claimed Spencer was on his way to buy medicine for their mother when he met police officers who had mounted a roadblock at Modern Two area.

“Before he died, he said he was beaten by police,” Mutembei said.

Family members said Spencer, who completed his secondary education last year and scored a B+, had dreams of becoming an engineer and was waiting for Covid-19 pandemic to ease before joining college.

Igembe South police boss Henry Akong’o said the case was handed over to the Directorate of Criminal Investigations.

 “The matter is under investigation and if he was beaten up by police, the truth will come out,” Mr Akong’o said.


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